Excitement stirs amongst the aerospace crowd as T-minus four minutes is announced over speakers. Like children rushing to be first in line, the adults hurry outside to the parking lot of the Dick Dewees Community and Senior Center – five miles away from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Outside, everyone picks their optimal viewing site for the rocket launch. The heavy fog has burnt off and now only blue skies blanket the audience.
Suddenly, a roar and rattle emanating from the Delta IV Heavy rocket is heard and felt. It shakes me to the core and sends chills down my spine. Before I realize what is happening, gasps and cheers escape the mouths of spectators. Now I see it: a massive rocket rises from behind the rolling, green hills and slowly makes its way into the atmosphere. It takes a southward trajectory as plumes of cryogenic liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen exit the three engine boosters. My watch reads 11:08 a.m. and I cannot see the hunk of metal and plastic thrusting into Earth’s orbit. Again, people are cheering and clapping as if the rocket is a magician pulling a disappearing act.
The National Reconnaissance Office Launch is not magic, it is science.
The NROL-65 mission launched a top secret surveillance satellite into Earth’s orbit.
This satellite is now being used by the United States Air Force in support of national defense. At this point, we can only imagine who our government is spying on. Preparation for the launch took five years.
“We started buying parts, in the early stages, five years ago,” said Russell Kittel, director of purchasing for United Launch Alliance.
“The adapters and flight path is decided two years after we originally buy the parts,” Kittel said. “(Then) sub-assemblies are built and tested before they ship.”
All sub-assemblies are put together and then shipped to the airbase. Once there, the final assembly of the rocket is completed.
Over the years ULA has purchased parts from different companies around the world including Switzerland, Sweden and Japan.
“About 3,000 contributors from around the world,” said Eddie Carrasco, Subcontract Management and Procurement of ULA.
ULA and the Air Force spent many years, millions of dollars, and received the help from companies across the world for a launch that only took five minutes.
One of the contributing companies is FMH Corporation. Three employees key in the production of their parts attended the launch. Anthony Razo, quality engineer from FMH Corp., was there.
“We had a liquid oxygen elbow and we also had some flex lines,” Razo said.
Razo and the FMH manufacturing department worked for a year and a half to adjust about 25 parts for a better fit. They had to remake tools and improve fixtures.
“I was involved from womb to tomb,” Razo said. “When it launched I felt over the moon, but that doesn’t quite explain it.”
He was filled with excitement, pride, and joy when his parts launched with the rocket.
The launch seemed insignificant in my daily life until I realized what that satellite will be used for: surveillance and spy missions. Ultimately it will be instrumental in protecting our country. The fact that I was there for its launch is unforgettable.
Hayley Hulin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.